ICYMI: Portman "Wrestling With The 'E word" on Trump [Cleveland.com]

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Key Points:

  • “Ohio Sen. Rob Portman has endorsed Donald Trump for president. But you'll be hard-pressed to find examples of him saying it, at least in those exact words.”

  • “Portman is among GOP senators facing competitive re-election bids who are wrestling with the "E word" when it comes to Trump. The real estate mogul, who has dropped precipitously in the polls since clinching the Republican nomination in May, has proven vexing to Republican politicians trying to calibrate how to avoid getting sucked into Trump-related controversies while not alienating Republican voters.”

  • “Asked to provide an example of Portman using the word "endorse" vis-a-vis Trump, Rich shared an exchange in which a reporter asked during a May 10 conference call whether Portman would be endorsing Trump. ‘I already have,’ Portman said.”

  • Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Pepper said Portman will fail if he tries to insulate himself from Trump by qualifying his support. ‘I think the decision of how to respond to Donald Trump says a lot about the political courage of the individual...and when you see people flocking away from Donald Trump, that will become very challenging for Sen. Portman,’ Pepper said.”

'Endorse' Donald Trump, or just 'support' him? It's a tough choice for GOP senators facing re-election
Cleveland.com, Andrew Tobias
June 29, 2016
http://www.cleveland.com/open/index.ssf/2016/06/endorse_donald_trump_or_just.html

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman has endorsed Donald Trump for president.

But you'll be hard-pressed to find examples of him saying it, at least in those exact words.

"I'm supporting Donald Trump for president," Portman told a Toledo TV station on May 6.

"I've been a Republican all my life, I'm going to support the nominee," Portman said on the Today Show on May 12.

"I said all along that I intended to support the Republican nominee and I have strong views about the direction our country is in right now," Portman said in a May 17 conference call with reporters.

And so on.

Portman is among GOP senators facing competitive re-election bids who are wrestling with the "E word" when it comes to Trump. The real estate mogul, who has dropped precipitously in the polls since clinching the Republican nomination in May, has proven vexing to Republican politicians trying to calibrate how to avoid getting sucked into Trump-related controversies while not alienating Republican voters. 

"Every candidate must first ensure his own political survival," said Mark Weaver, a longtime Ohio Republican political consultant. "Sometimes, that means standing shoulder to shoulder with your party's candidate. Sometimes it means standing a few feet away. The language choice — endorse, support, voting for, etc., reflects that positioning."

This campaign cycle's verbal gymnastics award goes to a spokeswoman for New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who told Politico in early May that Ayotte will "support the nominee" but "isn't planning to endorse anyone" in 2016.

Sharing in the honors is an adviser to Sen. John Hoeven's campaign, who likewise told Politico the GOP North Dakota senator "is not endorsing in the presidential race and that he will support the nominee of the party." 

Michawn Rich, a spokeswoman for the Portman campaign, said in an email that Portman isn't trying to parse words.

"Over the past year, Rob has said on numerous occasions that he would support and endorse the Republican nominee and that hasn't changed," Rich said. 

Asked to provide an example of Portman using the word "endorse" vis-a-vis Trump, Rich shared an exchange in which a reporter asked during a May 10 conference call whether Portman would be endorsing Trump.

"I already have," Portman said.

So what's the difference anyway?

Lauren Copeland, a political scientist at Baldwin Wallace University, said the "support" versus "endorse" reflects degrees.

"You could argue it's just semantics, right? But I think it's really a degree of endorsement. The people who 'endorse' Trump are much more enthusiastic supporters, while people saying they support him are less enthusiastic about their support."

"I guess the question is whether that distinction really matters a lot to the average person," she said.

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, facing a tough re-election campaign, explored the semantic divide during a June 19 appearance on CNN's "State of the Nation."

Shortly after Trump was declared the presumptive nominee in May, Johnson said he would endorse Trump. But Johnson later downgraded to a mere "support." Meanwhile, a pair of June polls show him trailing former senator Russ Feingold by at least 9 percentage points.

"To me, 'endorsement' is a big embrace," Johnson said on CNN. "It basically shows that I pretty well agree with an individual on almost everything. That's not necessarily going to be the case with our nominee. I'll certainly be an independent voice. Where I disagree with a particular nominee, I'll voice it. Whether it's Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump or somebody else, I'll voice those disagreements."

Rob Zimmerman, a Cleveland-based attorney and Democratic lobbyist, said he doesn't think the public makes those distinctions.

"These are politicians trying to split a hair that I frankly don't think can be split," Zimmerman said. "Voters look at this, throw up their hands and say, these are just politicians giving political double-speak."

Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Pepper said Portman will fail if he tries to insulate himself from Trump by qualifying his support.

"I think the decision of how to respond to Donald Trump says a lot about the political courage of the individual...and when you see people flocking away from Donald Trump, that will become very challenging for Sen. Portman," Pepper said.

###

For Immediate Release: June 29, 2016
Contact: David Bergstein or Liz Margolis, press@TedStrickland.com

Join Team Ted